My sister and I are different in a few major ways. She has a rounder face than I do and thicker hair, and she has a small Filipino nose where I have a longer one. My sister is more independent, while I am more reliant on others for help. And I also tend to do better in school while Carly has always had an easier time being social and making friends.
I am the older kid in our small family, so I had to deal with my crazed mother and how she thought that doing well in school was more important than anything else. Even though I resisted and tried to make time for other things, she drilled this idea into my head that if I didn’t get good grades then I was a failure and that I was stupid, and what was the point of my existence if I only got a 98% on something when I could have gotten 100%?
I started to see that my mom was too over the top about that sort of thing and took her a lot less seriously as time went on, which made Carly take my mom less seriously too. Maybe that’s why school and grades mean a little bit less to her than they do to me– and in that way, she’s lucky. She has had a chance to find other things that make her happy, like her friends and dance and singing and her job. She has had a chance to figure things out on her own.
I’m not saying that Carly isn’t smart. She is one of the smartest people I know. She does really well in school. When we go out to eat, she always figures out how we’re going to pay because she can handle money much better than I can. She has had her own bank account since she was 14 or 15. She knows more about makeup and style than I ever will. She can play the violin and dance. And she can sing like no one else can.
There was one time last summer that my dad, Carly, a female friend and I went out to dinner. Carly was talking about math and how she didn’t think that she was that great at it. I was arguing with her about how that probably wasn’t that true, and my dad was attempting to lecture her about how it didn’t matter how she did as long as she did her best (or something like that, my dad tends to lecture along those lines). And then our friend said to her: “It’s fine, you know girls aren’t really that great at math, anyway.”
I immediately retorted by saying that she shouldn’t say things that, because it’s not true. And then I went on to explain why.
I HATE math. It was the bane of my existence in high school. I wasn’t bad at it, it just wasn’t my thing. But I knew that there were a lot of girls in my high school who really liked physics and algebra and calc, and who were good at it. I know girls who went to really great colleges and decided to major in biochemical engineering and mechanical engineering and environmental science and mathematics. I know girls who have gotten scholarships because of things they’ve invented and programs they’ve coded. I know girls who are confident in their abilities to do math and science.
I attended a communications conference last year, and the keynote speaker was this woman named Reshma Saujani who founded a program called Girls Who Code. Although I couldn’t really relate to her speech because my interests are literally the opposite of what she was talking about, what she was saying was really important. One of the things that she emphasized in her speech was that girls, from a very young age, are discouraged from excelling in math and science. It is a cultural stereotype instilled in the minds of girls that they shouldn’t try because they are too delicate and not smart enough or strong-willed to enjoy math or science, which is just awful. The purpose of Girls Who Code is to teach young girls about coding and encourage them to follow career paths in math and science, which is exactly the opposite of what society teaches girls to do.
This Verizon commercial accurately depicts how girls aren’t encouraged to pursue math and the sciences from a very young age.
While my mom was forcing me to push myself and do well in all of my classes at school, little girls’ were being told that they just weren’t good at the things and encouraged to not even try. I am privileged in that way, I suppose, because I had someone that motivated me as a young woman to try my hardest and excel in everything that I did. I never realized how lucky I was in that respect.
Something that I realized was that our friend honestly believed that girls aren’t good at math. She wasn’t malicious in her intent. She was offering what she knew about girls and about math to the conversation, hoping to make Carly feel better about herself because she was like all other girls, and the stereotype for girls is that they aren’t good at math. And that is something that needs to change.
A big difference between me and my sister is that my sister had a choice. My dad has always wanted us to do our best, and he has been kind in his encouragement. My mom took a more extreme approach, but my sister didn’t really care as much. She had my mom’s standard to live up to in school, and then she had her own standard for her life, which includes being happy with herself. Carly had a choice, where a lot of girls don’t.